291 - Stephen, the First Church Martyr
OCTOBER 18 - Nº 291 Acts 6 – 7
As the number of believers in Jerusalem increased, it was brought to the apostles’ attention that the widows who had joined them from surrounding countries were not as well cared for as the ones from Israel. The 12 apostles (see #287 - October 14) said, “We must focus on praying and teaching God’s Word, but this problem must be taken care of.” They asked the congregation to select seven men to look after the physical needs of the people. “These men must be highly respected and filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit,” they instructed. Seven qualified men were chosen to serve. Among them were Stephen and Philip. The number of believers increased rapidly as the apostles continued to teach God’s Word, and the new “deacons” served diligently. Remarkably, a large number of Jewish priests also put their faith in Jesus during this time. Stephen (one of the deacons) was especially filled with God’s grace and the power to perform amazing miracles. Some Jewish leaders and teachers from other groups tried to argue with him about Jesus, but they couldn’t begin to match the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gave him as he spoke. These men began to despise Stephen. They spread rumors and lies, saying they had heard him speak against God and disrespect Moses. They turned the people and the religious leaders against him and dragged him in front of the Sanhedrin—the Jewish ruling Council. False witnesses claimed that he had also spoken against the Temple and the Jewish Law by saying that Jesus would come back and destroy everything that was sacred to them. As the men of the Sanhedrin watched and listened, they noticed Stephen’s face becoming like the face of an angel. The high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” Stephen responded by recounting the history of the Jewish nation from its origin with Abraham, through all the forefathers, up until the time of David. He explained that it was their ancestors who were guilty of these charges—not him. They had constantly turned their backs on God and criticized Moses. They had desecrated His dwelling place to worship other gods. They had disregarded His Laws and persecuted His prophets. Stephen reminded his accusers that the prophets had promised that God would send a Righteous Servant to rescue His nation. Then he added, “You are just like your ancestors—only worse! When God sent His Righteous Servant, you betrayed and murdered him!” The members of the Sanhedrin were so furious they began to snarl! But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. When he looked up to heaven, he saw the glory of God. Marveling at the sight, he said, “Look, I can see that heaven is open and Jesus is standing at the right hand of God!” This upset the leaders even more. They dragged Stephen outside the city to stone him. The executioners took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As the rocks flew, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Then he died.
Stephen did everything right—yet he ended up dying for it! God could have rescued him. We don’t know why He chose not to, but we do know that Jesus (who is seated at God’s right hand—see Luke 22:69) stood up to welcome him into heaven.
God knows everything we go through for Him and is excited to welcome us home.